Bob Schwartz

Month: January, 2021

“Man shown carrying Nancy Pelosi’s lectern at Capitol riots arrested”

You may not have noticed it, but along with my rational side, I am also a huge fan of the absurd.

This is because 1) life is absurd and 2) absurdity makes us laugh.

We all recognize the continuing tragedy of our public life, abetting and joined by the continuing tragedy of the pandemic. There is nothing funny about either.

Yet when I read this particular headline and saw the accompanying picture, something snapped, and I still can’t stop laughing. Think me callous and insensitive, but I need that laugh.

Here is the headline and picture again.

Man shown carrying Nancy Pelosi’s lectern at Capitol riots arrested

A Time for Tennyson and Yeats

Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Ulysses, Alfred, Lord Tennyson

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats

Two poets and two of their most famous poems come to mind these days, both poems I’ve quoted before.

One is the Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem Ulysses. The other is the William Butler Yeats poem The Second Coming.

In his time, the nineteenth century Victorian era, Tennyson was inarguably considered the greatest English poet. By the twentieth century, the greats such as Yeats and T.S. Eliot, observers of a different age, dismissed Tennyson.

It is a good thing we are in the twenty-first century, free to read without prejudice, to mix and match at will, to mine the treasures wherever they are found and whatever they are. We are, after all, heirs to heroism and horrors that were unthinkable (though Yeats had an inkling).

So here is an excerpt from Ulysses, a favorite of Bobby Kennedy. And the whole of The Second Coming, inspired by the just ended World War I, the Irish rebellion, and the death of Yeat’s beloved in the 1918 flu epidemic.

From Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Those who voted for Biden saved American democracy. So those who voted for Trump…

It is the greatest “what if” in modern American history. What if Trump had won the election in 2020?

In the two months since the election we have the gruesome answer. In a second Trump term, American government would be filled with more unbridled and self-serving lies and grabs for extra-constitutional power. That is, authoritarianism. Of this there can be no doubt.

Which leaves us with the second question. If those who helped defeat Trump, by voting for Biden or by choosing not to vote for Trump, helped America avoid totalitarianism, what do we say about those who voted for Trump?

The answer is not complicated. As we learn from the sordid history of the rise of other autocratic regimes, supporters are either dupes without good judgment or those who see some advantage in advancing the cause of diminished democracy. Apologists for centuries have tried to promote a third way, saying that people of good will can disagree, but that is historical nonsense when the choice is glaringly obvious.

So thank you if you voted for Biden. Thank you also if you considered Trump, maybe voted for him in 2016, but decided to sit out 2020. If, however, you voted for Trump in 2020, you are no doubt telling yourself or others how you were somehow advancing the cause of a healthy America. You were not. Maybe you were just a fool. Or maybe you were selfish. Either way, the good news for democracy is that your folly or your selfishness failed. A great thing for America.

Trump enablers try to recant. But America won’t forgive or forget.

Reichstag Fire, 1933

After historic tragedies and debacles, those complicit by participation or silence try by various degrees to distance themselves from responsibility. Most infamously in modern history, leaders and citizens in Nazi Germany characterized themselves as bystanders or as “just following orders.”

The Trump administration has not been a Nazi regime and the tragedy is not as deep and dark. On the other hand, it has been far from benign, and its malignancy has been glaring and obvious from the start. Yesterday’s storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters is just one instance, but it is one that finally got the attention of even the most ardent enablers.

So we saw one after another trying to say, in essence, this is not the man, the fearless leader that I know and love, so respectfully, I am maintaining my distance. Lindsay Graham offered this:

“Trump and I, we had a hell of a journey. I hate it being this way. All I can say is, count me out. Enough is enough. I tried to be helpful.”

Believing that this, or Mike Pence’s attempt to suddenly look like a responsible and trustworthy American leader, is enough to erase four years of American hell is a ludicrous idea. These people are free to repent and make their peace with their God; we hope they do. But if they believe we will allow them a seat at the table of public wise men, they will have to be satisfied to stand on the sidelines with the other miscreants and fools. Or in their own hell. Again, that is up to them and their God.

No, these people were not just bystanders or following orders. They made deals with the devil. Now it is time for them to pay up.

If religion has failed (the Dalai Lama says so) should we reform it or abandon it?

“It is possible to live without religion, but can one live without love and compassion? The answer is no.”

No less a religious eminence than the Dalai Lama says that religion has failed us. From A Call for Revolution:

When I call on you to bring on the Revolution of Compassion, I am not speaking to you in the name of an ideology. I do not believe in ideologies – those systems of preconceived ideas that are applied to reality and the means by which political parties in power impose authority. Ideology is all the more dangerous because it permeates all sectors of society. Not only can you no longer discern it, your world view is unconsciously shaped by it.

Nor do I speak to you about the Revolution of Compassion as a Buddhist, as the Dalai Lama, or as a Tibetan. I am addressing you as a human being, asking you to never forget that you too are, first and foremost, a human being, before you are American, European, African, or a member of a particular religious or ethnic group. These characteristics are secondary: do not let them dominate. If I say ‘I am a monk’ or ‘I am a Buddhist’ or ‘I am a Tibetan’, these are subordinate realities to the fact that I am above all a human being….

In November 2015, after the Paris terrorist attacks, I faced up to the failure of religion. Every religion persists in cultivating that which divides us, instead of uniting us around what brings us together. None has succeeded in creating a better human being, or a better world. That is why now, in 2017, I have no qualms about telling you that there is an urgent need to go beyond religion. It is possible to live without religion, but can one live without love and compassion? The answer is no.

If that is so, and increasing numbers of people young and old believe it, where does that leave religion?

Should religion be reformed? Or should we, as so many already have, abandon religion?

It is unnecessary to highlight those failings. When people who claim faith ignore or encourage the worst, sometimes even in the name of those faiths, exactly what good can those faiths be?

So the question remains. Do we try to persuade the nominally faithful to pay more attention and fidelity to their principles, including the principle of compassion? Or do we shake the religion dust from our boots and move on?

Pink in the foreground orange in the back

Pink in the foreground orange in the back

Flowers near the window pink
distant ones orange
bees and hummingbirds will visit
one the other both or neither
how vast and empty
the space between them all

© Bob Schwartz